President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping ostensibly agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades to fight global warming. As with many international agreements, the devil is in the details.
The White House’s climate deal with China would have the U.S. cut its emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 — something the Obama administration already plans to do under its Climate Action Plan. But while the U.S. has to cut back its fossil fuel consumption and suffer through artificially higher energy costs, China only made vague promises of emissions cuts.
China can emit all the greenhouse gases it wants until 2030, while giving no firm commitment to exactly what emissions level it will peak at and how much it would reduce its reliance on fossil fuels by. China only promised its “best efforts” to peak emissions while boosting its green energy use by 2030.
“China intends to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030,” according to the White House, “and to make best efforts to peak early and intends to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030.”
“This is a major milestone in the U.S.-China relationship,” Obama said. “It shows what’s possible when we work together on an urgent global challenge.”
The aim of the agreement is to show that the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions are committed to cutting emissions ahead of a major United Nations climate summit in Paris next year. But it’s unclear if a vague commitment from China will be enough to convince developed countries to agree to a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.
Australia and Canada have already opposed Obama’s efforts to use international bodies to impose climate policies on to domestic economies. Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Russia opted out the Kyoto Protocol on the grounds that developing countries, like China, were not required to cut emissions under the agreement.
While Obama has declared the tentative agreement a success, critics have said the agreement binds the U.S. to making tough economic choices while giving China a free ride.
“This unrealistic plan, that the president would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, told the Associated Press.
But the announcement has served as a rallying cry for environmental activists who want to see more action on global warming before Republicans gain control of both houses of Congress next year.
“These landmark commitments to curtail carbon pollution are a necessary, critical step forward in the global fight against climate change,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We look forward to working with both governments to strengthen their efforts — because we are confident that both can achieve even greater reductions.”
Former Vice President Al Gore called the agreement “a major step forward in the global effort to solve the climate crisis… these actions demonstrate a serious commitment by the top two global polluters.”
“Now there is no longer an excuse for Congress to block action,” echoed Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Boxer will lose her chairmanship to Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma when Republicans take the Senate next year.
Along with emissions cuts from the U.S. and vague promises from China, the two countries also agreed to fund research into energy efficiency and green energy programs to help boost the share of green energy in the world energy mix.
The White House and China also promised to move forward with a major carbon capture and storage project to show that carbon dioxide emissions from coal and natural gas power plants can be captured and stored — a key component to the viability of Obama’s rules for new coal plants.
Obama also wants to use the vague climate agreement with China to promote free trade in green products, like green energy. The initiative will be spearheaded by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Commerce Sec. Penny Prtizker and will focus on supplying green technologies to planned “climate-smart” cities.
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